By JEREMY LOTT
THE CENTER SQUARE REGIONAL EDITOR
(The Center Square) — Garth Baldwin, a city councilman in Blaine, Wash., spotted several unfamiliar license plates in his border town Monday, the first day the U.S. border was open to Canadian tourists in 19 months.
“I have noticed a few additional Canadian vehicles in town today,” he said. “My office is downtown. There were a couple, but not an open floodgate rush by any means.”
Mr. Baldwin hopes the visits will accelerate.
“The offerings in Blaine have grown since many people were here last and the ones that were frequented before are holding on,” he said. “Once people get back down and see we’re open for business, I think things will improve for everyone.”
Jori Burnett, the city administrator for Ferndale just down the road on Interstate 5, shares Baldwin’s hope.
“The city of Ferndale is excited to welcome back our Canadian friends, neighbors and families who are traveling safely and wish to reacquaint themselves with northwest Washington and Ferndale,” he said. “It has been too long, our businesses and attractions are open and we look forward to restoring the special relationship between Washington’s Fourth Corner and the British Columbian Lower Mainland.”
City officials are looking to get things back to normal because of what Canadian spending has meant in Whatcom County in the past. (The county includes Blaine and Bellingham, home to Western Washington University.)
“Canadian shoppers are an important part of Whatcom County’s retail sector and accounted for an estimated $140 million in spending in 2018 and an average of 11.7% of taxable retail sales,” Western Washington University’s Border Policy Research Institute said in a report. “Retail locations with the highest proportions of Canadians are Ross, Silver Reef Casino, Costco and downtown Blaine.”
The report also warned that “border restrictions related to COVID-19 may have a long-term impact on Canadian shopping behavior in Whatcom County.”
There are barriers for Canadians who would enter the U.S. and then re-enter their country, on both sides of the border.
To get into the U.S., Canadians must show proof they are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. To get back into Canada, they need the results of a COVID-19 test taken in the past 72 hours.
“At a cost of $150 to $300 per PCR test, that can be a pricey proposition, particularly for families,” Guy Occhiogrosso, CEO of Bellingham Regional Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
That additional hassle and expense is likely to keep many Canadians in Canada, though some already are proving willing to jump through those hoops to get to the U.S.
“We hope that as the restrictions lessen and people are more comfortable, that things will return to normal, someday soon hopefully,” Mr. Baldwin said. “The additional testing requirement for returning to Canada will probably be a mandate that will keep those casual visitors from making the trek, but time will tell.”
Nonessential border traffic into America had been shut down since March 2020. Canada opened its borders back up to Americans traveling to Canada in August.
Jeremy Lott covers the Pacific Northwest for The Center Square.